When the Cheering Stops

by Jonathan M. Katz

Mariano Rivera pitching for the New York Yankees during a game on July 29, 2007; in the 1998 World Series, Rivera pitched out of a bases loaded jam in the eighth inning and was credited with the save in Game 4.
User Keith Allison on Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

I miss sports. No, that doesn’t really cover it. I have a gaping sports-sized hole in my life. In my psyche. 

My calendar used to rotate around the annual cycle of seasons and playoffs. If you wanted to find me during the first two weekends of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, you’d have to look in the vicinity of a TV baking hot from being on for twelve hours straight, and God help you if you interrupted to talk about anything other than your bracket. (Where I went to high school, they’d wheel in a TV and cancel class if a local team was playing.) I didn’t miss a single home football game in college, and very few in basketball, even though the university I chose (Northwestern) was world-historically bad at both. Part of the reason I decided to go to Evanston, instead of some other, equally pretentious school, was because there was a D1 sports program. I couldn’t imagine a full college experience without one. Sue me, I was seventeen.

Beyond it all was my love of the Yankees (yes, I know, I’ve heard whatever you’re about to say before). This was not just a love—it was a family. It was my family. My great-grandfather Katz, in the family telling, basically got off the boat from the Pale of Settlement and went straight to the Hebrew National line at Yankee Stadium. My grandfather, who grew up off the Grand Concourse, talked until the day he died about his childhood Wednesdays at the House that Ruth Built, with Ruth himself (they used to let the Bronx kids in for free that day, he said). My father’s most cherished memory was seeing Mantle hit a homer and feeling the whole upper deck shake.

The Yankees sucked until I was 16, just the right age to keep hoping, then all of a sudden the new glory years began. I was eighteen in 1998, meaning the perfect age to take in the greatest season in Major League Baseball history, possibly for all time—with the Great Home Run Race for Ruth’s record between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, and the Yankees’ record 125 wins, including a four-game sweep of the World Series.

That we’d decamped from New York to the Midwest (or the South, or whatever Louisville is) when I was a baby only made the Yankees more core to my being; they were a core part of my Diasporaness, my neshama galut. A year later, I still recall, I was getting my wisdom teeth out. As I came out from under anesthesia, I found myself reciting all the Yankees’ retired numbers, in order, to that date (“No. 1, Billy Martin. No. 3 Ruth. No. 4 Gehrig. No. 5 DiMaggio”...). I think I still can.

It’s a paywall, but a small one

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